I read an article today on io9.com discussing how creativity is effected by lighting. They referenced a study from the Journal of Environmental Psychology that was looking into the role of the workplace environment on workplace productivity. In their study, they found that when standard overhead work lights were dimmed, the study participants experienced a higher level of creativity in the tasks put before them. Analytical work, on the other hand, was more effective under brighter light. Researchers said that the increase in creativity experienced with dimmer overhead lights was not due to the light, but to the effect the light had on their perception of the circumstances under which they were working. In their words: “we conclude that priming darkness and dim illumination have similar effects on creative performance due to their shared link to freedom from constraints and the concomitant explorative processing style.” In simpler terms: People are more creative in places where they feel the space is conducive to creativity.
Another part of the study that I found interesting was that the improvement in creativity didn’t hold true in work environments that didn’t use overhead lights, but instead used upright floor lights. The assumption made by the researchers is that work environments that have that style of lighting are usually more informal places where creativity would already be encouraged. What wasn’t mentioned in the article I was reading (I didn’t read the original study, since I don’t have access to that journal) was if the level of creativity in the environment with upright lights had a level of creativity that was equal to that in the environment with the dimmed overhead lights. It also didn’t mention whether or not the level of analytical work suffered in that environment.
So, what I take from this study isn’t necessarily that certain work environments should have dimmer or brighter lights, although that might not be a bad idea. I see this more as an indication that you shouldn’t expect people to operate at their peak creativity in just any environment. If you need people to be creative, you need to place them in an environment that they associate with creativity. And the same goes for analytical work. So, if someone has to do both kinds of work, they would perform better at both if they have two different spaces available to them; one geared to creative work and one geared to analytical work. I’ll be doing my best to see how I can modify my current work environment to reflect that.